Hitting “reset” on cells by suppressing a protein

A protein discovered at OMRF might be the key to creating stem cell therapies from adult cells.

OMRF researcher Carol Webb, Ph.D., and University of Texas at Austin scientist Haley Tucker, Ph.D., found that removing or suppressing the protein called Bright could spontaneously convert connective tissue cells in mouse embryos into pluripotent stem cells—the kinds of cells that have the potential to become almost any other type of cell. Their research was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

“The ultimate goal of stem cell research is to revert an adult cell into a pluripotent stem cell, which could be used to treat patients using their own cells,” Webb said. “We’ve found that inhibiting the Bright protein improves the efficiency of techniques other labs use to make pluripotent mouse stem cells.”

Webb discovered Bright, which is known as ARID3a in humans, and has spent years researching its function. With Tucker, she found the protein acts as a barrier to reprogramming cells by repressing key regulatory genes.

“This is the culmination of years of work,” she said. “We are currently working in my lab to determine if adult human connective tissue cells can be reprogrammed the same way.”

If it works, it could make reverting adult cells into stem cells easier and more efficient, Webb said.

“Imagine the ability to take cells that are already compatible, because they’re your own cells, and reprogram them to grow new nerves or liver tissue,” she said. “There’s so much promise in this field.”

Graduate students Hi Le and Troy Templeton contributed to the paper.

The research was funded by a grant from the Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research, which is funded by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).